This build idea popped into my head from two things - thinking about what I could do with the Bound Dagger in Dragonborn - maybe some sort of Arcane Assassin - and the look of Ulfric's clothes on women - it looks like something a mage or a ranger would wear, so why not both? Plus I hadn't tried the bound bow much before, so I present Why Bound Weapons Are Still Viable on Master, otherwise known as:
The Arcane Marksman
After the Oblivion Crisis, many mages throughout Tamriel sought out ways to better harness the powers of Oblivion for good. They re-created an ancient Snow Elf combat style, seamlessly blending use of spells, Bound weapons, and protective spells which is still seen in the Falmer today. This overarching combat style was applied to create 3 new classes of fighter - the Arcane Bladesman, wielding a bound sword and specializing in destructive spells, the Arcane Assassin, using a bound dagger and specializing in Illusion magic, and the Arcane Marksman, using a bound bow and focusing mostly on the weapon itself.
The Arcane Marksman is a skilled fighter, with a wide array of options in combat. The Marksman wields her bow of choice, the Bound Bow, with unmatched skill, able to bury foes under a hail of conjured arrows with deadly force and precision. Like all arcane fighters, the Marksman is skilled in using Alteration magic to protect herself. Aside from conjuring the Bound Bow, Conjuration magic is also used to call allies from Oblivion to assist the Marksman. Enchanting is used to further hone the Marksman's talent, and Frost magic is used to hinder enemies to prevent them from getting too close to the Marksman.
The Marksman believes the best way to heal is not to get hit in the first place. In the case she does require healing, the Marksman relies on potions.
Race: I picked Breton for their impressive +10 Conjuration boost at first level, important for a character who wants the Adept Conjuration perk ASAP. Altmer also make good Marksmen, with their +50 Magicka boost as well as all-round skill boosts. Bosmer and Redguard can also make servicable Marksmen with their skill boosts.
Stats: I recommend leveling 2/1/0. The Marksman's main offense is the bow; no need for a high Magicka pool for costly Destruction spells. Ranged combatants are deadly on high difficulties, and a reasonable health pool will let you survive 2 or 3 hits.
Stone: I strongly recommend the Atronach Stone. Since in most combats you cast all your spells at the beginning and then stick with your bow, the bonus magicka is well worth the regeneration penalty. The Spell Absorption component also gives you great protection against magic users.
Archery: The Arcane Marksman's core focus. The Marksman is quite skilled with the bound bow, specializing in speed and suppressing tactics - the Marksman's objective is to overwhelm foes in a storm of arrows. Key perks are all the way up the left side to Bullseye. As this was my primary damage-dealing skill, it leveled remarkably quickly, hitting 100 at just level 31.
Conjuration: The use of Conjuration by the Arcane Marksman is twofold - firstly it is used to bind magic bows from Oblivion, and secondly to conjure allies in battle. The best summon for the job is the Frost Atronach - but I'll get in to that later. Key perks are Mystic Binding, Summoner, and up to Adept Conjuration.
Alteration: The Marksman, like all arcane warriors, uses Alteration magic for protection. Later on, it can be used for other purposes, such as paralysis. Key perks are up to Stability and Mage Armor.
Enchanting: The Arcane Marksman enchants her equipment to improve her combat prowess. Enchanting is very important at higher levels (depending on your difficulty) to improve bow damage, playing on Master I started to need it around level 25. Key perks are just ranks in Enchanter and Insightful Enchanter.
Destruction: A bit of skill in frost magic can go a long way for the Marksman. At lower levels it can be used when spending the majority of your magicka pool on summoning a bow isn't necessary, and later on it becomes more of a utility skill, used to slow and place runes. Key perks are just up to Apprentice Destruction.
A well-placed rune can help the Marksman get out of a dangerous situation
Weapon: The Arcane Marksman's weapon of choice is the Bound Bow, a truly deadly weapon in the right hands. While it cannot be improved by Smithing, once the Marksman acquires the Mystic Binding perk, it effectively counts as a weightless Daedric Bow with a significantly increased draw speed. Another big advantage of the Bound Bow is you get a quiver of 100 Daedric arrows every time you cast the spell, greatly improving damage output over a character using a standard bow and lower-tier arrows.
At lower levels feel free to use any bow until you have enough magicka to bind your own. A Spell Tome for the Bound Bow can be found at any level in Fort Amol prison, under a lantern in a bucket opposite the entrance. The base magicka cost is 207 but you should be able to cast it at a fairly low level, especially with the Atronach Stone and/or as an Altmer.
Apparel: The Arcane Marksman prefers to wear ordinary clothes rather than armor to get the full effect from Alteration spells. Early on stick with some standard mage robes (preferably with Conjuration or Alteration bonuses) and Archery/Magicka jewelry. A few good looks you can go for:
- Ulfric's set with Gold Emerald Circlet (female) or Silver Sapphire Circlet (male)
- Full Alik'r Set
- College Robes (can be purchased from Radiant Raiment unenchanted) and circlet
- Vampire Robes set
As for Enchantments:
- Head: Fortify Archery
- Body: Fortify Conjuration
- Gloves: Fortify Magicka
- Boots: Resist Fire
- Amulet: Fortify Archery
- Ring: Fortify Archery
The Fortify Archery enchantments are critical to remaining viable with a Bound Bow late game, since it can't be improved with smithing. Remember if you're enchanting a unique item like Ulfric's clothes to have all your Enchanting perks (enchanter 5/5 and Insightful Enchanter) first!
The Arcane Marksman possesses unmatched skill with the Bound Bow
Spell selection is very important, especially at earlier levels when you don't have as much magicka to throw around. You need enough magicka to summon an ally, use a flesh spell, bind a bow, and a bit left over. I typically had enough for a Frost Atronach, whatever level of flesh spell I was at, bound bow, and a Frost Rune to slow down enemies that got to my position. While on the topic of spells, let's talk about the Frost Atronach. In my opinion he's the best 'general use' summon for the Marksman. He has several pros: a large profile (a skilled Marksman can use him as mobile cover, making sure projectiles hit the atronach instead of her), reasonable damage output, high health, frost immunity, an aura of slowing frost damage, and last but no least the 'shatter attack'. When the Frost Atronach performs a power attack (which it does quite frequently, every 2-5 attacks) it creates a shatter effect, and the target is hit by a powerful stagger. This stagger is what makes the Frost Atronach such a great ally - it works on every enemy I've tried it on - Dragons, Dragon Priests, Giants, Mammoths, and everything in between. With rank(s) in Summoner the Arcane Marksman can conjure a Frost Atronach right into the middle of enemies, drawing attention away from the Marksman as well as lining up some easy shots from the staggering enemies.
The Frost Atronach is by no means the best summon for every situation, I preferred to use the Flame Atronach in dragon battles due to its ranged attack, and the Dremora Lord in battles against fewer but significantly tougher opponents (his increased magicka cost can cause issues if you use it every fight).
Now onto tactics with the Bound Bow. By far the biggest advantage of the Bound Bow to the Marksman is it's devastating attack speed. Once the Power Shot perk is unlocked, the Marksman excels at taking out single targets, able to fill them full of arrows while they can't move due to the stagger. This becomes even more powerful once the Quick Shot perk is acquired, pushing the attack speed through the roof. With the 100 Archery perk, Bullseye, your ability to keep targets at bay borders in the realms of ridiculous, with a 50% stagger chance and 15% paralysis chance along with the Bound Bow's high fire rate. Something else to note, I'm not completely sure why but with the Mystic Binding perk Bound Bows do damage to wards as well as health, possibly shattering the ward and giving you a free stagger.
In summary, summon a Frost Atronach into a group of enemies, cast a flesh spell, place a rune to protect yourself if necessary, and summon a bow. Let your Frost Atronach take the hits for you - it's damn good at it - and focus targets down one at a time.
The Arcane Marksman and her Frost Atronach work in tandem to take down some Bandits
As for roleplay, I played my Marksman as a scholar and mercenary. She'd be happy to take well-paying jobs, but would always search through dungeons and the like for forgotten artifacts, treasures and writings. I joined the College of Winterhold (for obvious reasons) and the Imperials since that's what any intelligent non-Nord would logically do (hehe) and to get Ulfric's clothes to complete the look of the build.
Well, thanks for reading, and if you do choose to play this build I hope you enjoy the (relatively) simple but challenging playstyle! If you've got any questions, feel free to ask in this thread!